Part 4 out of 5
fingers touching the right wall, his soul humbled before the
greatness of this little woman with the deep, troubled eyes.
When they came out into the starlight she stopped and
listened for what seemed to Bud a very long time.
"If they are coming, they are a long way behind us," she said
relievedly, and remounted. "Boise knows his trail and has
made good time. And your horse has proven beyond all doubt
that he's a thoroughbred. I've seen horses balk at going
where we have gone."
"And I've seen men who counted themselves brave as any, who
wouldn't do what you are doing to-night; Jerry, for instance.
I wish you'd go back. I can't bear having you take this
"I can't go back, Bud. Not if they find I've gone." Then he
heard her laugh quietly. "I can't imagine now why I stayed
and endured it all this while. I think I only needed the
psychological moment for rebellion, and to-night the moment
came. So you see you have really done me a service by getting
into this scrape. It's the first time I have been off the
ranch in a year."
"If you call that doing you a service, I'm going to ask you
to let me do something also for you." Bud half smiled to
himself in the darkness, thinking how diplomatic he was. "If
you're found out, you'll have to keep on going, and I take it
you wouldn't be particular where you went. So I wish you 'd
take charge of part of this money for me, and if you leave,
go down to my mother, on the Tomahawk ranch, out from
Laramie. Anyone can tell you where it is, when you get down
that way If you need any money use it. And tell mother I sent
her the finest cook in the country. Mother, by the way, is a
great musician, Marian. She taught me all I know of music.
You'd get along just fine with mother. And she needs you,
honest. She isn't very strong, yet she can't find anyone to
suit, down there--"
"I might not suit, either," said Marian, her voice somewhat
"Oh, I'm not afraid of that. And--there's a message I want to
send--I promised mother I'd--"
"Oh, hush! You're really an awfully poor prevaricator, Bud.
This is to help me, you're planning."
"Well--it's to help me that I want you to take part of the
money. The gang won't hold you up, will they? And I want
mother to have it. I want her to have you, too,--to help out
when company comes drifting in there, sometimes fifteen or
twenty strong. Especially on Sunday. Mother has to wait on
them and cook for them, and--as long as you are going to cook
for a bunch, you may as well do it where it will be
appreciated, and where you'll be treated like a--like a lady
ought to be treated."
"You're even worse--" began Marian, laughing softly, and
stopped abruptly, listening, her head turned behind them."
Sh-sh-someone is coming behind us," she whispered. "We're
almost through--come on, and don't talk!"
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN:GUARDIAN ANGELS ARE RIDING POINT
They plunged into darkness again, rode at a half trot over
smooth, hard sand, Bud trusting himself wholly to Marian and
to the sagacity of the two horses who could see, he hoped,
much better than he himself could. His keen hearing had
caught a faint sound from behind them--far back in the
crevice-like gorge they had just quitted, he believed. For
Marian's sake he stared anxiously ahead, eager for the first
faint suggestion of starlight before them. It came, and he
breathed freer and felt of his gun in its holster, pulling it
forward an inch or two.
"This way, Bud," Marian murmured, and swung Boise to the
left, against the mountain under and through which they
seemed to have passed. She led him into another small gorge
whose extent he could not see, and stopped him with a hand
pressed against Sunfish's shoulder.
"We'd better get down and hold our horses quiet," she
cautioned. "Boise may try to whinny, and he mustn't."
They stood side by side at their horses' heads, holding the
animals close. For a time there were no sounds at all save
the breathing of the horses and once a repressed sigh from
Marian. Bud remembered suddenly how tired she must be. At six
o'clock that morning she had fed twelve men a substantial
breakfast. At noon there had been dinner for several more
than twelve, and supper again at six--and here she was,
risking her life when she should be in bed. He felt for her
free hand, found it hanging listlessly by her side and took
it in his own and held it there, just as one holds the hand
of a timid child. Yet Marian was not timid.
A subdued mutter of voices, the click of hoofs striking
against stone, and the pursuers passed within thirty feet of
them. Boise had lifted his head to nicker a salute, but
Marian's jerk on the reins stopped him. They stood very
still, not daring so much as a whisper until the sounds had
receded and silence came again.
"They took the side-hill trail," whispered Marian, pushing
Boise backward to turn him in the narrow defile. "You'll have
to get down the hill into the creek-bed and follow that until
you come to the stage road. There may be others coming that
way, but they will be two or three miles behind you. This
tunnel trail cuts off at least five miles but we had to go
slower, you see.
"Right here you can lead Sunfish down the bluff to the creek.
It's all dry, and around the first bend you will see where
the road crosses. Turn to the left on that and ride! This
horse of yours will have to show the stuff that's in him. Get
to Crater ahead of these men that took the hill trail.
They'll not ride fast--they never dreamed you had come
through here, but they came to cut off the distance and to
head you off. With others behind, you must beat them all in
or you'll be trapped between."
She had left Boise tied hastily to a bush and was walking
ahead of Bud down the steep, rocky hillside to show him the
easiest way amongst the boulders Halfway down, Bud caught her
shoulder and stopped her.
"I'm not a kid," he said firmly. "I can make it from here
alone. Not another step, young lady. If you can get back home
You'll be doing enough. Take this--it's money, but I don't
know how much. And watch your chance and go down to mother
with that message. Birnie, of the Tomahawk outfit--you'll
find out in Laramie where to go. And tell mother I'm all
right, and she'll see me some day--when I've made my stake.
God bless you, little woman. You're the truest, sweetest
little woman in the world. There's just one more like you--
that's mother. Now go back--and for God's sake he careful!"
He pressed money into her two hands, held them tightly
together, kissed them both hurriedly and plunged down the
hill with Sunfish slipping and sliding after him. For her
safety, if not for his own, he meant to get away from there
as quickly as possible.
In the creek bed he mounted and rode away at a sharp gallop,
glad that Sunfish, thoroughbred though he was, had not been
raised tenderly in stall and corral, but had run free with
the range horses and had learned to keep his feet under him
in rough country or smooth. When he reached the crossing of
the stage road he turned to the left as Marian had commanded
and put Sunfish to a pace that slid the miles behind him.
With his thoughts clinging to Marian, to the harshness which
life had shown her who was all goodness and sweetness and
courage, Bud forgot to keep careful watch behind him, or to
look for the place where the hill trail joined the road, as
it probably did some distance from Crater. It would be a
blind trail, of course--since only the Catrock gang and
Marian knew of it.
They came into the road not far behind him, out of rock-
strewn, brushy wilderness that sloped up steeply to the
rugged sides of Gold Gap mountains. Sunfish discovered them
first, and gave Bud warning just before they identified him
and began to shoot.
Bud laid himself along the shoulder of his horse with a
handful of mane to steady him while he watched his chance and
fired back at them. There were four, just the number he had
guessed from the sounds as they came out of the tunnel. A
horse ran staggering toward him with the others, faltered and
fell. Bud was sorry for that. It had been no part of his plan
to shoot down the horses.
The three came on, leaving the fourth to his own devices--and
that, too, was quite in keeping with the type of human
vultures they were. They kept firing at Bud, and once he felt
Sunfish wince and leap forward as if a spur had raked him.
Bud shot again, and thought he saw one horseman lurch
backward. But he could not be sure--they were going at a
terrific pace now, and Sunfish was leaving them farther and
farther behind. They were outclassed, hopelessly out of
pistol range, and they must have known it, for although they
held to the chase they fired no more shots.
Then a dog barked, and Bud knew that he was passing a ranch.
He could smell the fresh hay in the stacks, and a moment
later he descried the black hulk of ranch buildings. Sunfish
was running easily, his breath unlabored. Bud stood in the
stirrups and looked back. They were still coming, for he
could hear the pound of hoofs.
The ranch was behind him. Clear starlight was all around, and
the bulk of near mountains. The road seemed sandy, yielding
beneath the pound of Sunfish's hoofs. Bud leaned forward
again in the saddle, and planned what he would do when he
reached Crater; found time, also, to hope that Marian had
gone back, and had not heard the shooting.
Another dog barked, this time on the right. Bud saw that they
were passing a picket fence. The barking of this dog started
another farther ahead and to the left. Houses so close
together could only mean that he was approaching Crater. Bud
began to pull Sunfish down to a more conventional pace. He
did not particularly want to see heads thrust from windows,
and questions shouted to him. The Catrock gang might have
friends up this way. It would be strange, Bud thought, if
He loped along the road grown broader now and smoother. Many
houses he passed, and the mouths of obscure lanes. Dogs ran
out at him. Bud slowed to a walk and turned in the saddle,
listening. Away back, where he had first met the signs of
civilization, the dog he had aroused was barking again, his
deep baying blurred by the distance. Bud grinned to himself
and rode on at a walk, speaking now and then to an inquiring
dog and calling him Purp in a tone that soothed.
Crater, he discovered in a cursory patrol of the place, was
no more than an overgrown village. The court-house and jail
stood on the main street, and just beyond was the bank. Bud
rode here and there, examining closely the fronts of various
buildings before he concluded that there was only the one
bank in Crater. When he was quite sure of that he chose place
near by the rear of the bank, where one horse and a cow
occupied a comfortable corral together with hay. He unsaddled
Sunfish and turned him there, himself returning to the bank
before those other night-riders had more than reached the
first straggling suburbs of the town.
On the porch of the court-house, behind a jutting corner
pillar that seemed especially designed for the concealment of
a man in Bud's situation, he rolled cigarette which he meant
to smoke later on when the way was clear, and waited for the
horsemen to appear.
Presently they came, rode to a point opposite the court-house
and bank with no more than a careless glance that way, and
halted in front of an uninviting hotel across the street. Two
remained on their horses while the third pounded on the door
and shook it by the knob and finally raised the landlord from
his sleep. There was a conference which Bud witnessed with
much interest. A lamp had been lighted in the bare office,
and against the yellow glow Bud distinctly saw the landlord
nod his head twice--which plainly betokened some sort of
He was glad that he had not stopped at the hotel. He felt
much more comfortable on the court-house porch. "Mother's
guardian angels must be riding 'point' to-night," he mused.
The horsemen rode back to a livery stable which Bud had
observed but had not entered. There they also sought for news
of him, it would appear. You will recall, however, that Bud
had ridden slowly into the business district of Crater, and
his passing had been unmarked except by the barking of dogs
that spent their nights in yammering at every sound and so
were never taken seriously. The three horsemen were plainly
nonplussed and conferred together in low tones before they
rode on. It was evident that they meant to find Bud if they
could. What they meant to do with him Bud did not attempt to
conjecture. He did not intend to be found.
After a while the horsemen rode back to the hotel, got the
landlord out with less difficulty than before and had another
talk with him.
"He stole a horse from Dave Truman," Bud heard one of the
three say distinctly. "That there running horse Dave had."
The landlord tucked in his shirt and exclaimed at the news,
and Bud heard him mention the sheriff. But nothing came of
that evidently. They talked further and reined their horses
to ride back whence they came.
"He likely's give us the slip outside of town, some place,"
one man concluded. "We'll ride back and see. If he shows up,
he'll likely want to eat. . . And send Dick out to the
Stivers place. We'll come a-running." He had lowered his
voice so that Bud could not hear what was to happen before
the landlord sent Dick, but he decided he would not pry into
the matter and try to fill that gap in the conversation.
He sat where he was until the three had ridden back down the
sandy road which served as a street. Then he slipped behind
the court-house and smoked his cigarette, and went and
borrowed hay from the cow and the horse in the corral and
made himself some sort of bed with his saddle blanket to help
out, and slept until morning.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:THE CATROCK GANG
A woman with a checkered apron and a motherly look came to
let her chickens out and milk the cow, and woke Bud so that
she could tell him she believed he had been on a "toot", or
he never would have taken such a liberty with her corral. Bud
agreed to the toot, and apologized, and asked for breakfast.
And the woman, after one good look at him, handed him the
milk bucket and asked him how he liked his eggs.
"All the way from barn to breakfast," Bud grinned, and the
woman chuckled and called him Smarty, and told him to come in
as soon as the cow was milked.
Bud had a great breakfast with the widow Hanson. She talked,
and Bud learned a good deal about Crater and its
surroundings, and when he spoke of holdup gangs she seemed to
know immediately what he meant, and told him a great deal
more about the Catrockers than Marian had done. Everything
from murdering and robbing a peddler to looting the banks at
Crater and Lava was laid to the Catrockers. They were the
human buzzards that watched over the country and swooped down
wherever there was money. The sheriff couldn't do anything
with them, and no one expected him to, so far as Bud could
He hesitated a long time before he asked about Marian Morris.
Mrs. Hanson wept while she related Marian's history, which in
substance was exactly what Marian herself had told Bud. Mrs.
Hanson, however, told how Marian had fought to save her
father and Ed, and how she had married Lew Morris as a part
of her campaign for honesty and goodness. Now she was down at
Little Lost cooking for a gang of men, said Mrs. Hanson, when
she ought to be out in the world singing for thousands and
her in silks and diamonds instead of gingham dresses and not
enough of them.
"Marian Collier is the sweetest thing that ever grew up in
this country," the old lady sniffled. "She's one in a
thousand and when she was off to school she showed that she
wasn't no common trash. She wanted to be an opery singer, but
then her mother died and Marian done what looked to be her
duty. A bird in a trap is what I call her."
Bud regretted having opened the subject, and praised the
cooking by way of turning his hostess's thoughts into a
different channel. He asked her if she would accept him as a
boarder while he was in town, and was promptly accepted.
He did not want to appear in public until the bank was
opened, and he was a bit troubled over identification. There
could be no harm, he reflected, in confiding to Mrs. Hanson
as much as was necessary of his adventures. Wherefore he
dried the dishes for her and told her his errand in town, and
why it was that he and his horse had slept in her corral
instead of patronizing hotel and livery stable. He showed her
the checks he wanted to cash, and asked her, with flattering
eagerness for her advice, what he should do. He had been
warned, he said, that Jeff and his friends might try to beat
him yet by stopping payment, and he knew that he had been
followed by them to town.
"What You'll do will be what I tell ye," Mrs Hanson replied
with decision. "The cashier is a friend to me--I was with his
wife last month with her first baby, and they swear by me
now, for I gave her good care. We'll go over there this
minute, and have talk with him. He'll do what he can for ye,
and he'll do it for my sake."
"You don't know me, remember," Bud reminded her honestly.
The widow Hanson gave him a scornful smile and toss of her
head. "And do I not?" she demanded. Do you think I've buried
three husbands and thinking now of the fourth, without
knowing what's wrote a man's face? Three I buried, and only
one died his bed. I can tell if a man's honest or not,
without giving him the second look. If you've got them checks
you should get the money on them--for I know their stripe.
Come on with me to Jimmy Lawton's house. He's likely holding
the baby while Minie does the dishes."
Mrs. Hanson guessed shrewdly. The cashier of the Crater
County Bank was doing exactly what she said he would be
doing. He was sitting in the kitchen, rocking a pink baby
wrapped in white outing flannel with blue border, when Mrs.
Hanson, without the formality of more than one warning tap on
the screen door, walked in with Bud. She held out her hands
for the baby while she introduced the cashier to Bud. In
the next breath she was explaining what was wanted of the
"They've done it before, and ye know it's plain thievery and
ought to be complained about. So now get your wits to work,
Jimmy, for this friend of mine is entitled to his money and
should have it if it is there to be had."
"Oh, it's there," said Jimmy. He looked at his watch, looked
at the kitchen clock, looked at Bud and winked. "We open at
nine, in this town," he said. "It lacks half an hour--but let
me see those checks."
Very relievedly Bud produced them, watched the cashier scan
each one to make sure that they were right, and quaked when
Jimmy scowled at Jeff Hall's signature on the largest check
of all. "He had a notion to use the wrong signature, but he
may have lost his nerve. It's all right, Mr. Birnie. Just
endorse these, and I'll take them into the bank and attend to
them the first thing I do after the door is open. You'd
better come in when I open up--"
"The gang had some talk about cleaning out the bank while
they 're about it," Bud remembered suddenly. "Can't you
appoint me something, or hire me as a guard and let me help
out? How many men do you have here in this bank?"
"Two, except when the president's in his office in the rear.
That's fine of you to offer. We've been held up, once--and
they cleaned us out of cash." Jimmy turned to Mrs. Hanson.
"Mother, can't you run over and have Jess come and swear Mr.
Birnie in as a deputy? If I go, or he goes, someone may
notice it and tip the gang off."
Mrs. Hanson hastily deposited the baby in its cradle and went
to call "Jess", her face pink with excitement.
"You're lucky you stopped at her house instead of some other
place," Jimmy observed. "She's a corking good woman. As a
deputy sheriff, you'll come in mighty handy if they do try
anything, Mr. Birnie--if you're the kind of a man you look to
be. I'll bet you can shoot. Can you?"
"If you scare me badly enough, I might get a cramp in my
trigger finger," Bud confessed. Jimmy grinned and went back
to considering his own part.
"I'll cash these checks for you the first thing I do. And as
deputy you can go with me. I'll have to unlock the door on
time, and if they mean to stop payment, and clean the bank
too, it will probably be done all at once. It has been a year
since they bothered us, so they may need a little change. If
Jess isn't busy he may stick around."
"No one expects him to round up the gang, I heard."
"No one expects him to go into Catrock Canyon after them.
He'll round them up, quick enough, if he can catch them far
enough from their holes."
Jess returned with Mrs. Hanson, swore in a new deputy, eyed
Bud curiously, and agreed to remain hidden across the road
from the bank with a rifle. He nodded understandingly when
Bud warned him that the looting was a matter of hearsay on
his part, and departed with an awkward compliment to Mrs. Jim
about hoping that the baby was going to look like her.
Jim lived just behind the bank, and a high board fence
between the two buildings served to hide his coming and
going. But Bud took off his hat and walked stooping,--by
special request of Mrs. Hanson--to make sure that he was not
"I think I'll stand out in front of the window," said Bud
when they were inside. "It will look more natural, and if any
of these fellows show up I'd just as soon not show my brand
the first thing."
They showed up, all right, within two minutes of the
unlocking of the bank and the rolling up of the shades. Jeff
Hall was the first man to walk in, and he stopped short when
he saw Bud lounging before the teller's window and the
cashier busy within. Other men were straggling up on the
porch, and two of them entered. Jeff walked over to Bud, who
shifted his position enough to bring him facing Jeff, whom he
did not trust at all.
"Mr. Lawton," Jeff began hurriedly, "I want to stop payment
on a check this young feller got from me by fraud. It's for
five thousand eight hundred dollars, and I notify you--"
"Too late, Mr. Hall. I have already accepted the checks.
Where did the fraud come in? You can bring suit, of course,
"I'll tell you, Jimmy. He bet that my horse couldn't beat
Dave Truman's Boise. A good many bet on the same thing. But
my horse proved to have more speed, so a lot of them are
sore." Bud chuckled as other Sunday losers came straggling
"Well, it's too late. I have honored the checks," Jimmy said
crisply, and turned to hand a sealed manila envelope to the
bookkeeper with whispered instructions. The bookkeeper, who
had just entered from the rear of the office, turned on his
heel and left again.
Jeff muttered something to his friends and went outside as if
their business were done for the day.
"I gave you five thousand in currency and the balance in a
cashier's check," Jimmy whispered through he wicket. "Sent it
to the house, We don't keep a great deal--ten thousand's our
limit in cash, and I don't think you want to pack gold or
"No, I didn't. I'd rather--"
Two men came in, one going over to the desk where he
apparently wrote a check, the other came straight to the
window. Bud looked into the heavily bearded face of a man who
had the eyes of Lew Morris. He shifted his position a little
so that he faced the man's right side. The one at the desk
was glancing slyly over his shoulder at the bookkeeper, who
had just returned to his work.
"Can you change this twenty so I can get seven dollars and a
quarter out of it?" asked the man at he window. As he slid
the bill through the wicket he started to sneeze, and reached
backward--for his handkerchief, apparently.
"Here's one," said Bud. "Don't sneeze too hard, old-timer, or
you're liable to sneeze your whiskers all off. It's happened
Someone outside fired a shot in at Bud, clipping his hatband
in front. At the sound of the shot the whiskered one snatched
his gun out, and the cashier shot him. Bud had sent a shot
through the outside window and hit somebody--whom, he did not
know, for he had no time to look. The young fellow at the
desk had whirled, and was pointing a gun shakily, first at he
cashier and then at Bud. Bud fired and knocked he gun out of
his hand, then stepped over the man he suspected was Lew and
caught the young fellow by the wrist.
"You're Ed Collier--by your eyes and your mouth," Bud said in
a rapid undertone. "I'm going to get you out of this, if
you'll do what I say. Will you?"
"He got me in here, honest," the young fellow quaked. He
couldn't be more than nineteen, Bud guessed swiftly.
"Let me through, Jimmy," Bud ordered hurriedly. "You got the
man that put up this job. I'll take the kid out the back way,
if you don't mind."
Jimmy opened the steel-grilled door and let them through.
"Ed Collier," he said in a tone of recognition. "I heard he
"Forget it, Jimmy. If the sheriff asks about him, say he got
out. Now, Ed, I'm going to take you over to Mrs. Hanson's.
She'll keep an eye on you for a while."
Eddie was looking at the dead man on the floor, and trembling
so that he did not attempt to reply; and by way of Jimmy's
back fence and the widow Hanson's barn and corral, Bud got
Eddie safe into the kitchen just as that determined lady was
leaving home with a shotgun to help defend the honor of the
Bud took her by the shoulder and told her what he wanted her
to do. "He's Marian's brother, and too young to be with that
gang. So keep him here, safe and out of sight, until I come.
Then I'll want to borrow your horse. Shall I tie the kid?"
"And me an able-bodied woman that could turn him acrost my
knee?" Mrs. Hanson's eyes snapped.
"It's more likely the boy needs his breakfast. Get along with
Bud got along, slipping into the bank by the rear door and
taking a hand in the desultory firing in the street. The
sheriff had a couple of men ironed and one man down and the
landlord of the hotel was doing a great deal of explaining
that he had never seen the bandits before. Just by way of
stimulating his memory Bud threw a bullet close to his heels,
and the landlord thereupon grovelled and wept while he
protested his innocence.
"He's a damn liar, sheriff," Bud called across the hoof-
scarred road. "He was talking to them about eleven o'clock
last night. There were three that chased me into town, and
they got him up out of bed to find out whether I'd stopped
there. I hadn't, luckily for me. If I had he'd have showed
them the way to my room, and he'd have had a dead boarder
this morning. Keep right on shedding tears, you old cut-
throat! I was sitting on the court-house porch, last night,
and I heard every word that passed between you and the
"I've been suspicioning here was where they got their
information right along," the sheriff commented, and slipped
the handcuffs on the landlord. Investigation proved that Jeff
Hall and his friends had suddenly decided that they had no
business with the bank that day, and had mounted and galloped
out of town when the first shot was fired. Which simplified
matters a bit for Bud.
In Jimmy Lawton's kitchen he received his money, and when the
prisoners were locked up he saved himself some trouble with
the sheriff by hunting him up and explaining just why he had
taken the Collier boy into custody.
"You know yourself he's just a kid, and if you send him over
the road he's a criminal for life. I believe I can make a
decent man of him. I want to try, anyway. So you just leave
me this deputy's badge, and make my commission regular and
permanent, and I'll keep an eye on him. Give me a paper so I
can get a requisition and bring him back to stand trial, any
time he breaks out. I'll be responsible for him, sheriff."
"And who in blazes are you?" the sheriff inquired, with a
grin to remove the sting of suspicion. "Name sounded
"Bud Birnie of the Tomahawk, down near Laramie; Telegraph
Laramie if you like and find out about me.
"Good Lord! I know the Tomahawk like a book!" cried the
sheriff. "And you're Bob Birnie's boy! Say! D'you remember
dragging into camp on the summit one time when you was about
twelve years old--been hidin' out from Injuns about three
days? Well, say! I'm the feller that packed you into the
tent, and fed yuh when yuh come to. Remember the time I rode
down and stayed over night at yore place, the time Bill Nye
come down from his prospect hole up in the Snowies, bringin'
word the Injuns was up again?" The sheriff grabbed Bud's hand
and held it, shaking it up and down now and then to emphasize
"Folks called you Buddy, then. I remember yuh, helpin' your
mother cook 'n' wash dishes for us fellers. I kinda felt like
I had a claim on yuh, Buddy.
"Say, Bill Nye, he's famous now. Writin' books full of jokes,
and all that. He always was a comical cuss. Don't you
remember how the bunch of us laughed at him when he drifted
in about dark, him and four burros--that one he called
Boomerang, that he named his paper after in Laramie? I've
told lots of times what he said when he come stoopin' into
the kitchen--how Colorou had sent him word that he'd give
Bill just four sleeps to get outa there. An, 'Hell!' says
Bill. 'I didn't need any sleeps!' An' we all turned to and
cooked a hull beef yore dad had butchered that day--and Bill
loaded up with the first chunks we had ready, and pulled his
freight. He sure didn't need any sleeps--"
"Yes, you bet I remember. Jesse Cummings is your name. I sure
ought to remember you, for you and your partner saved my
life, I expect. I thought I'd seen you before, when you made
me deputy. How about the kid? Can I have him? Lew Morris, the
man that kept him on the wrong side of the law, is dead, I
heard the doctor say. Jimmy got him when he pulled his gun."
"Why, yes--if the town don't git onto me turnin' him loose, I
guess you can have the kid for all I care. He didn't take any
part in the holdup, did he Buddy?"
"He was over by the customers' desk when Lew started, to hold
up the cashier."
"Well I got enough prisoners so I guess he won't be missed.
But you look out how yuh git him outa town. Better wait til
kinda late to-night. I sure would like to see him git a show.
Them two Collier kids never did have a square deal, far as
But be careful, youngster. I want another term off this
county if I can get it. Don't go get me in bad."
"I won't," Bud promised and hurried back to Mrs. Hanson's
That estimable lady was patting butter in a wooden bowl when
Bud went in. She turned and brushed a wisp of gray hair from
her face with her fore arm and sh-shed him into silent
stepping, motioning toward an inner room. Bud tiptoed and
looked, saw Ed Collier fast asleep, swaddled in a blanket,
and grinned his approval.
He made sure that the sleep was genuine, also that the
blanket swaddling was efficient. Moreover, he discovered that
Mrs. Hanson had very prudently attached a thin wire to the
foot of the blanket cocoon, had passed the wire through a
knot hole in a cupboard set into the partition, and to a
sheep bell which she no doubt expected to ring upon
provocation--such as a prisoner struggling to release his
feet from a gray blanket fastened with many large safety
"He went right to sleep, the minute I'd fed him and tied him
snug," Mrs. Hanson murmured. "He was a sulky divvle and
wouldn't give a decent answer to me till he had his stomach
filled. From the way he waded into the ham and eggs, I guess
a square meal and him has been strangers for a long time."
Sleep and Ed Collier must have been strangers also, for Bud
attended the inquest of Lew Morris, visited afterwards with
Sheriff Cummings, who was full of reminiscence and wanted to
remind Bud of everything that had ever happened within his
knowledge during the time when they had been neighbors with
no more than forty miles or so between them. The sheriff
offered Bud a horse and saddle, which he promised to deliver
to the widow's corral after the citizens of Crater had gone
to bed. And while he did not say that it would be Ed's horse,
Bud guessed shrewdly that it would. After that, Bud carefully
slit the lining of his boots tucked money and checks into the
opening he had made, and did a very neat repair job.
All that while Ed Collier slept. When Bud returned for his
supper Ed had evidently just awakened and was lying on his
back biting his lip while he eyed the wire that ran from his
feet to the parting of a pair of calico curtains. He did not
see Bud, who was watching him through a crack in the door at
the head of the bed. Ed was plainly puzzled at the wire and a
bit resentful. He lifted his feet until the wire was well
slackened, held them poised for a minute and deliberately
brought them down hard on the floor.
The result was all that he could possibly have expected.
Somewhere was a vicious clang, the rattle of a tin pan and
the approaching outcry of a woman. Bud retreated to the
kitchen to view the devastation and discovered that a sheep
bell not too clean had been dislodged from a nail and dragged
through one pan of milk into another, where it was rolling on
its edge, stirring the cream that had risen. As Mrs. Hanson
rushed in from the back yard, Bud returned to the angry
"I've got him safe," he soothed Mrs. Hanson and her shotgun.
"He just had a nightmare. Perhaps that breakfast you fed him
was too hearty. I'll look after him now, Mrs. Hanson. We
won't be bothering you long, anyway."
Mrs. Hanson was talking to herself when she went to her milk
pans, and Bud released Eddie Collier, guessing how
humiliating it must be to be a young fellow pinned into a
blanket with safety pins, and knowing from certain
experiences of his own that humiliation is quite as apt to
breed trouble as any other emotion.
Eddie sat up on the edge of the bed and stared at Bud. His
eyes were like Marian's in shape and color, but their
expression was suspicion, defiance, and watchfulness blended
into one compelling stare that spelled Fear. Or so Bud read
it, having trapped animals of various grades ever since he
had caught the "HAWNTOAD", and seen that look many, many
times in the eyes of his catch.
"How'd you like to take a trip with me--as a kind of a
partner?" Bud began carelessly, pulling a splinter off the
homemade bed for which Mrs. Hanson would not thank him--and
beginning to whittle it to a sharp point aimlessly, as men
have a way of doing when their minds are at work upon a
problem which requires--much constructive thinking.
"Pardner in what?" Eddie countered sullenly.
"Pardner in what I am planning to do to make money. I can
make money, you know--and stay on friendly terms with the
sheriff, too. That's better than your bunch has been able to
do. I don't mind telling you--it's stale news, I guess--that
I cleaned up close to twelve thousand dollars in less than a
month, off a working capital of three thoroughbred horses and
about sixty dollars cash. And I'll add the knowledge that I
was playing against men that would slip a cold deck if they
played solitaire, they were so crooked. And if that doesn't
recommend me sufficiently, I'll say I'm a deputy sheriff of
Crater County, and Jesse Cummings knows my past. I want to
hire you to go with me and make some money, and I'll pay you
forty a month and five per cent bonus on my profits at the
end of two years. The first year may not show any profits,
but the second year will. How does it sound to you?"
He had been rolling a cigarette, and now he offered the
"makings" to Ed, who accepted them mechanically, his eyes
still staring hard at Bud. He glanced toward the door and the
one little window where wild cucumber vines were thickly
matted, and Bud interpreted his glance.
"Lew and another Catrocker--the one that tried to rope me
down in the Sinks--are dead, and three more are in jail.
Business won't be very brisk with the Catrock gang for a
"If you're trying to bribe me into squealing on the rest,
you're a damn fool," said Eddie harshly. "I ain't the
squealing kind. You can lead me over to jail first. I'd
rather take my chances with the others." He was breathing
hard when he finished.
"Rather than work for me?" Bud sliced off the sharp point
which he had so carefully whittled, and began to sharpen a
new one. Eddie watched him fascinatedly.
"Rather than squeal on the bunch. There's no other reason in
God's world why you'd make me an offer like that. I ain't a
fool quite, if my head does run up to a peak."
Bud chewed his lip, whittled, and finally threw the splinter
away. When he turned toward Eddie his eyes were shiny.
"Kid, you're breaking your sister's heart, following this
trail. I'd like to see you give her a chance to speak your
name without blinking back tears. I'd like to see her smile
all the way from her dimples to her eyes when she thinks of
you. That's why I made the offer--that and because I think
you'd earn your wages."
Eddie looked at him, looked away, staring vacantly at the
wall. His eyelashes were blinking very fast, his lip began to
tremble. "You--I--I never wanted to--I ain't worth saving--
oh, hell! I never had a chance before--" He dropped sidewise
on the bed, buried his face in his arms and sobbed hoarsely,
like the boy he was.
CHAPTER NINETEEN:BUD RIDES THROUGH CATROCK AND LOSES MARIAN
"You'll have to show me the trail, pardner," said Bud when
they were making their way cautiously out of town by way of
the tin can suburbs. "I could figure out the direction all
right, and make it by morning; but seeing you grew up here,
I'll let you pilot."
"You'll have to tell me where you want to go, first," said
Eddie with a good deal of sullenness still in his voice.
"Little Lost." Without intending to do so, Bud put a good
deal of meaning in his voice.
Eddie did not say anything, but veered to the right, climbing
higher on the slope than Bud would have gone. "We can take
the high trail," he volunteered when they stopped to rest the
horses. "It takes up over the summit and down Burroback
Valley. It's longer, but the stage road edges along the Sinks
and--it might be rough going, after we get down a piece."
"How about the side-hill trail, through Catrock Peak?"
Eddie turned sharply. In the starlight Bud was watching him,
wondering what he was thinking.
"How'd you get next to any side-hill trail?" Eddie asked
after a minute. "You been over it?"
"I surely have. And I expect to go again, to-nigh! A young
fellow about your size is going to act a pilot, and get me to
Little Lost as quick as possibe. It'll be daylight at that."
"If you got another day coming, it better be before daylight
we get there," Eddie retorted glumly. H hesitated, turned his
horse and led the way down the slope, angling down away from
the well-travelled trail over the summit of Gold Gap.
That hesitation told Bud, without words, how tenuous was his
hold upon Eddie. He possessed sufficient imagination to know
that his own carefully discipline past, sheltered from actual
contact with evil, had given him little enough by which to
measure the soul of a youth like Eddie Collier.
How long Eddie had supped and slept with thieves and
murderers, Bud could only guess. From the little that Marian
had told him, Eddie's father had been one of the gang. At
least, she had plainly stated that he and Lew had been
partners--though Collier might have been ranching innocently
enough, and ignorant of Lew's real nature.
At all events, Eddie was a lad well schooled in inequity such
as the wilderness fosters in sturdy fashion. Wide spaces give
room for great virtues and great wickedness. Bud felt that he
was betting large odds on an unknown quantity. He was placing
himself literally in the hands of an acknowledged Catrocker,
because of the clean gaze of a pair of eyes, the fine curve
of the mouth.
For a long time they rode without speech. Eddie in the lead,
Bud following, alert to every little movement in the sage,
every little sound of the night. That was what we rather
naively call "second nature", habit born of Bud's growing
years amongst dangers which every pioneer family knows. Alert
he was, yet deeply dreaming; a tenuous dream too sweet to
come true, he told himself; a dream which he never dared to
dream until the cool stars, and the little night wind began
to whisper to him that Marian was free from the brute that
had owned her. He scarcely dared think of it yet. Shyly he
remembered how he had held her hand to give her courage while
they rode in darkness; her poor work-roughened little hand,
that had been old when he took it first, and had warmed in
his clasp. He remembered how he had pressed her hands
together when they parted--why, surely it was longer ago than
last night!--and had kissed them reverently as he would kiss
the fingers of a queen.
"Hell's too good for Lew Morris," he blurted unexpectedly,
the thought of Marian's bruised cheek coming like a blow.
"Want to go and tell him so? If you don't yuh better shut
up," Eddie whispered fierce warning. "You needn't think all
the Catrockers are dead or in jail. They's a few left and
they'd kill yuh quicker'n they'd take a drink."
Bud, embarrassed at the emotion behind his statement, rather
than ashamed of the remark itself, made no reply.
Much as Eddie desired silence, he himself pulled up and spoke
again when Bud had ridden close.
"I guess you come through the Gap," he whispered. "They's a
shorter way than that--Sis don't know it. It's one the bunch
uses a lot--if they catch us--I can save my hide by makin'
out I led you into a trap. You'll get yours, anyway. How much
sand you got?"
Bud leaned and spat into the darkness. "Not much. Maybe
enough to get through this scary short-cut of yours."
"You tell the truth when you say scary. It's so darn crazy to
go down Catrock Canyon maybe they won't think we'd tackle it.
And if they catch us, I'll say I led yuh in--and then--say,
I'm kinda bettin' on your luck. The way you cleaned up on
them horses, maybe luck'll stay with you. And I'll help all I
"Fine." Bud reached over and closed his fingers around
Eddie's thin, boyish arm. "You didn't tell me yet why the
other trail isn't good enough."
"I heard a sound in the Gap tunnel, that's why. You maybe
didn't know what it was. I know them echoes to a fare-ye-
well. Somebody's there--likely posted waiting." He was
motionless for a space, listening.
"Get off-easy. Take off your spurs." Eddie was down,
whispering eagerly to Bud. "There's a draft of air from the
blow-holes that comes this way. Sound comes outa there a lot
easier than it goes in. Sis and I found that out. Lead your
horse--if they jump us, give him a lick with the quirt and
hide in the brush."
Like Indians the two made their way down a rambling slope not
far from where Marian had guided Bud. To-night, however,
Eddie led the way to the right instead of the left, which
seemed to Bud a direction that would bring them down Oldman
creek, that dry river bed, and finally, perhaps, to the race
Eddie never did explain just how he made his way through a
maze of water-cut pillars and heaps of sandstone so
bewildering that Bud afterward swore that in spite of the
fact that he was leading Sunfish, he frequently found himself
at that patient animal's tail, where they were doubled around
some freakish pillar. Frequently Eddie stopped and peered
past his horse to make sure that Bud had not lost the trail.
And finally, because he was no doubt worried over that
possibility, he knotted his rope to his saddle horn, brought
back a length that reached a full pace behind the tail of the
horse, and placed the end in Bud's hand.
"If yuh lose me you're a goner," he whispered. "So hang onto
that, no matter what comes. And don't yuh speak to me. This
is hell's corral and we're walking the top trail right now."
He made sure that Bud had the loop in his hand, then slipped
back past his horse and went on, walking more quickly.
Bud admitted afterwards that he was perfectly willing to be
led like a tame squirrel around the top of "hell's corral",
whatever that was. All that Bud saw was an intricate assembly
of those terrific pillars, whose height he did not know,
since he had no time to glance up and estimate the distance.
There was no method, no channel worn through in anything that
could be called a line. Whatever primeval torrent had
honeycombed the ledge had left it so before ever its waters
had formed a straight passage through. How Eddie knew the way
he could only conjecture, remembering how he himself had
ridden devious trails down on the Tomahawk range when he was
a boy. It rather hurt his pride to realize that never had he
seen anything approaching this madman's trail.
Without warning they plunged into darkness again. Darkness so
black that Bud knew they had entered another of those
mysterious, subterranean passages which had created such
names as abounded in the country: the "Sinks", "Little
Lost", and Sunk River itself which disappeared mysteriously.
He was beginning to wonder with a grim kind of humor if he
himself was not about to follow the example of the rivers and
disappear, when the soft padding of their footfalls blurred
under the whistling of wind. Fine particles of sand stung
him, a blast full against him halted him for a second. But
the rope pulled steadily and he went on, half-dragged into
They were in a canyon; deep, sombre in its night shadows, its
width made known to him by the strip of starlight overhead.
Directly before them, not more than a hundred yards, a light
shone through a window.
The rope slackened in his hands, and Eddie slipped back to
him shivering a little as Bud discovered when he laid a hand
on his arm.
"I guess I better tie yuh--but it won't be so yuh can't shoot.
Get on, and let me tie your feet into the stirrups. I--I
guess maybe we can get past, all right--I'll try--I want to
go and take that job you said you'd give me!"
"What's the matter, son? Is that where the Catrockers hang
out?" Bud swung into the saddle. "I trust you, kid. You're
"I--I want to live like Sis wants me to. But I've got to tie
yuh, Mr. Birnie, and that looks-- But they'd k--you don't
know how they kill traitors. I saw one--" He leaned against
Bud's leg, one hand reaching up to the saddle horn and
gripping it in a passing frenzy." If you say so," he
whispered rapidly, "we'll sneak up and shoot 'em through the
window before they get a chance--"
Bud reached out his hand and patted Eddie on the shoulder."
That job of yours don't call for any killing we can avoid,"
he said. "Go ahead and tie me. No use of wasting lead on two
men when one will do. It's all right. I trust you, pardner."
Eddie's shoulders stiffened. He stood up, looked toward the
light and gripped Bud's hand. "I thought they'd be asleep--
what was home," he said. "We got to ride past the cabin to
get out through another water-wash. But you take your coat
and tie your horse's feet, and I'll tie mine. I--can't tie
you, Mr. Birnie. We'll chance it together."
Bud did not say anything at all, for which Eddie seemed
grateful. They muffled eight hoofs, rode across the canyon's
bottom and passed the cabin so closely that the light of a
smoky lantern on a table was plainly visible to Bud, as was
the shaggy profile of a man who sat with his arms folded,
glowering over a pipe. He heard nothing. Bud halted Sunfish
and looked again to make sure, while Eddie beckoned
frantically. They went on undisturbed--the Catrockers kept no
They passed a couple of corrals, rode over springy sod where
Bud dimly discerned hay stubble. Eddie let down a set of
bars, replaced them carefully, and they crossed another
meadow. It struck Bud that the Catrockers were fairly well
entrenched in their canyon, with plenty of horse feed at
They followed a twisting trail along the canyon's wall, rode
into another pit of darkness, came out into a sandy stretch
that seemed hazily familiar to Bud. They crossed this, dove
into the bushes following a dim trail, and in ten minutes
Eddie's horse backed suddenly against Sunfish's nose. Bud
stood in his stirrups, reins held firmly in his left hand,
and in his right his six-shooter with the hammer lifted,
ready to snap down.
A tall figure stepped away from the peaked rocks and paused
at Bud's side.
"I been waiting for Marian," he said bluntly. "You know
anything about her?"
"She turned back last night after she had shown me the way."
Bud's throat went dry. "Did they miss her?" He leaned
"Not till breakfast time, they didn't. I was waiting here,
most all night--except right after you folks left. She wasn't
missed, and I never flagged her--and she ain't showed up
Bud sat there stunned, trying to think what might have
happened. Those dark passages through the mountains--the
ledge--" Ed, you know that trail she took me over? She was
coming back that way. She could get lost--"
"No she couldn't--not Sis. If her horse didn't act the fool--
what horse was it she rode?" Ed turned to Jerry as if he
"Boise," Bud spoke quickly, as though seconds were precious.
"She said he knew the way."
"He sure ought to," Eddie replied emphatically. "Boise
belongs to Sis, by rights. The mare got killed and Dad gave
him to Sis when he was a suckin' colt, and Sis raised him on
cow's milk and broke him herself. She rode him all over. Lew
took and sold him to Dave, and gambled the money, and Sis
never signed no bill of sale. They couldn't make her. Sis has
got spunk, once you stir her up. She'll tackle anything.
She's always claimed Boise is hers. Boise knows the Gap like
a book. Sis couldn't get off the trail if she rode him."
"Something happened, then," Bud muttered stubbornly. "Four
men came through behind us, and we waited out in the dark to
let them pass. Then she sent me down to the creek-bottom, and
she turned back. If they got her--" He turned Sunfish in the
narrow brush trail. "She's hurt, or they got her--I'm going
back!" he said grimly.
"Hell! you can't do any good alone," Eddie protested, coming
after him. "We'll go look for her, Mr. Birnie, but we've got
to have something so we can see. If. Jerry could dig up a
couple of lanterns--"
"You wait. I'm coming along," Jerry called guardedly. "I'll
To Bud that time of waiting was torment. He had faced danger
and tragedy since he could toddle, and fear had never
overridden the titillating sense of adventure. But then the
danger had been for himself. Now terror conjured pictures
whose horror set him trembling. Twenty-four hours and more
had passed since he had kissed Marian's hand and let her go--
to what? The inky blackness of those tunnelled caverns in the
Gap confronted his mind like a nightmare. He could not speak
of it--he dared not think of it, and yet he must.
Jerry came on horseback, with three unlighted lanterns held
in a cluster by their wire handles. Eddie immediately urged
his horse into the brushy edge of the trail so that he might
pass Bud and take the lead. "You sure made quick time," he
remarked approvingly to Jerry.
"I raided Dave's cache of whiskey or I'd have been here
quicker," Jerry explained. "We might need some."
Bud gritted his teeth. "Ride, why don't yuh?" he urged Eddie
harshly. "What the hell ails that horse of yours ? You got
Eddie glanced back over his bobbing shoulder as his horse
trotted along the blind trail through the brush. "This here
ain't no race track," he expostulated. "We'll make it quicker
without no broken legs."
There was justice in his protest and Bud said nothing. But
Sunfish's head bumped the tail of Eddie's horse many times
during that ride. Once in the Gap, with a lighted lantern in
his rein hand and his six-shooter in the other--because it was
ticklish riding, in there with lights revealing them to
anyone who might be coming through--he was content to go
slowly, peering this way and that as he rode.
Once Eddie halted and turned to speak to them. "I know Boise
wouldn't leave the trail. If Sis had to duck off and hide
from somebody, he'd come back to the trail. Loose, he'd do
that. Sis and I used to explore around in here just for fun,
and kept it for our secret till Lew found out. She always
rode Boise. I'm dead sure he'd bring her out all right."
"She hasn't come out--yet. Go on," said Bud, and Eddie rode
Three hours it took them to search the various passages where
Eddie thought it possible that Marian had turned aside. Bud
saw that the trail through was safe as any such trail could
be, and he wondered at the nerve and initiative of the girl
and the boy who had explored the place and found where
certain queer twists and turns would lead. Afterwards he
learned that Marian was twelve and Eddie ten when first they
had hidden there from Indians, and they had been five years
in finding where every passage led. Also, in daytime the
place was not so fearsome, since sunlight slanted down into
many a passageway through the blow-holes high above.
"She ain't here. I knew she wasn't," Eddie announced when the
final tunnel let them into the graying light of dawn beyond
"In that case--" Bud glanced from him to Jerry, who was
blowing out his lantern.
Jerry let down the globe carefully, at the same time glancing
soberly at Bud. "The kid knows better than we do what would
happen if Lew met up with her and Boise."
Eddie shook his head miserably, his eyes fixed helpessly upon
Bud. "Lew never, Mr. Birnie. I was with him every minute
from dark till--till the cashier ,shot him. We come up the
way I took you through the canyon. Lew never knew she was
gone any more than I did."
Jerry bit his lip. "Kid, what if the gang run acrost her,
KNOWING Lew was dead?" he grated. "And her on Boise? The
word's out that Bud stole Boise. Dave and the boys rode out
to round him up--and they ain't done it, so they're still
riding--we'll hope. Kid, you know damn well your gang would
double-cross Dave in a minute, now Lew's killed. If they got
hold of the horse, do yuh think they'd turn him over to
"No, you bet your life they wouldn't!" Eddie retorted.
"And what about HER?" Bud cut in with ominous calm. "She's
your sister, kid. Would you be worried if you knew they had
HER and the horse?"
Eddie gulped and looked away. "They wouldn't hurt her unless
they knew't Lew was dead," he said. "And them that went to
Crater was killed or jailed, so--" He hesitated. "It looked
to me like Anse was setting up waiting for the bunch to get
back from Crater. He--he's always jumpy when they go off and
stay, and it'd be just like him to set there and wait till
daylight. It looks to me, Mr. Birnie, like him and--and the
rest don't know yet that the Crater job was a fizzle. They
wouldn't think of such a thing as taking Sis, or Boise
either, unless they knew Lew was dead."
"Are you sure of that?" Bud had him in a grip that widened
the boy's eyes with something approaching fear.
"Yes sir, Mr. Birnie, I'm sure. What didn't go to Crater
stayed in camp--or was gone on some other trip. No, I'm
sure!" He jerked away with sudden indignation at Bud's
disbelief. "Say! Do you think I'm bad enough to let my sister
get into trouble with the Catrockers? I know they never got
her. More'n likely it's Dave."
"Dave went up Burroback Valley," Jerry stated flatly. "Him
and the boys wasn't on this side the ridge. They had it sized
up that Bud might go from Crater straight across into Black
Rim, and they rode up to catch him as he comes back across."
Jerry grinned a little. They wanted that money you peeled off
the crowd Sunday, Bud. They was willing you should get to
Crater and cash them checks before they overhauled yuh and
strung yuh up."
"You don't suppose they'd hurt Marian if they found her with
the horse? She might have followed along to Crater--"
"She never," Eddie contradicted. And Jerry declared in the
same breath, "She'd be too much afraid of Lew. No, if they
found her with the horse they'd take him away from her and
send her back on another one to do the kitchen work," he
conjectured with some contempt. "If they found YOU without
the horse--well--men have been hung on suspicion, Bud.
Money's something everybody wants, and there ain't a man in
the valley but what has figured your winnings down to the
last two-bit piece. It's just a runnin' match now to see what
bunch gets to yuh first."
"Oh, the money! I'd give the whole of it to anyone that would
tell me Marian 's safe," Bud cried unguardedly in his misery.
Whereat Jerry and Ed looked at each other queerly.
CHAPTER TWENTY: "PICK YOUR FOOTING!"
The three sat irresolutely on their horses at the tunnel's
end of the Gap, staring out over the valley of the Redwater
and at the mountains beyond. Bud's face was haggard and the
lines of his mouth were hard. It was so vast a country in
which to look for one little woman who had not gone back to
see Jerry's signal!
"I'll bet yuh Sis cleared out," Eddie blurted, looking at Bud
eagerly, as if he had been searching for some comforting
word. "Sis has got lots of sand. She used to call me a 'fraid
cat all the time when I didn't want to go where she did. I'll
bet she just took Boise and run off with him. She would, if
she made up her mind--and I guess she'd had about as much as
she could stand, cookin' at Little Lost--"
Bud lifted his head and looked at Eddie like a man newly
awakened. "I gave her money to take home for me, to my
mother, down Laramie way. I begged her to go if she was
liable to be in trouble over leaving the ranch. But she said
she wouldn't go--not unless she was missed. She knew I'd come
back to the ranch. I just piled her hands full of bills in
the dark and told her to use them if she had to--"
"She might have done it," Jerry hazarded hopefully. "Maybe
she did sneak in some other way and get her things. She'd
have to take some clothes along. Women folks always have to
pack. By gosh, she could hide Boise out somewhere and--"
For a young man in danger of being lynched by his boss for
horse stealing and waylaid and robbed by a gang notorious in
the country, Bud's appetite for risk seemed insatiable that
morning. For he added the extreme possibility of breaking his
neck by reckless riding in the next hour.
He swung Sunfish about and jabbed him with the spurs, ducking
into the gloom of the Gap as if the two who rode behind were
assassins on his trail. Once he spoke, and that was to
Sunfish. His tone was savage.
"Damn your lazy hide, you've been through here twice and
you've got daylight to help--now pick up your feet and
Sunfish travelled; and the pace he set sent even Jerry
gasping now and then when he came to the worst places, with
the sound of galloping hoofs in the distance before him, and
Eddie coming along behind and lifting his voice warningly now
and then. Even the Catrockers had held the Gap in respect,
and had ridden its devious trail cautiously. But caution was
a meaningless word to Bud just then while a small flame of
hope burned steadily before him.
The last turn, where on the first trip Sunfish lost Boise and
balked for a minute, he made so fast that Sunfish left a
patch of yellowish hair on a pointed rock and came into the
open snorting fire of wrath. He went over the rough ground
like a bouncing antelope, simply because he was too mad to
care how many legs he broke. At the peak of rocks he showed
an inclination to stop, and Bud, who had been thinking and
planning while he hoped, pulled him to a stand and waited for
the others to come up. They could not go nearer the corrals
without incurring the danger of being overheard, and that
must not happen.
"You damn fool," gritted Jerry when he came up with Bud. "If
I'd knowed you wanted to commit suicide I'd a caved your head
in with a rock and saved myself the craziest ride I ever took
in m' life!"
"Oh, shut up!" Bud snapped impatiently. "We're here, aren't
we? Now listen to me, boys. You catch up my horses--Jerry,
are you coming along with me? You may as well. I'm a deputy
sheriff, and if anybody stops you for whatever you've done,
I'll show a warrant for your arrest. And by thunder," he
declared with a faint grin, "I'll serve it if I have to to
keep you with me. I don't know what you've done, and I don't
care. I want you. So catch up my horses--and Jerry, you can
pack my war-bag and roll your bed and mine, if I'm too busy
while I'm here."
"You're liable to be busy, all right," Jerry interpolated
"Well, they won't bother you. Ed, you better get the horses.
Take Sunfish, here, and graze him somewhere outa sight. We'll
keep going, and we might have to start suddenly."
"How about Sis? I thought--"
"I'm going to turn Little Lost upside down to find her, if
she's here. If she isn't, I'm kinda hoping she went down to
mother. She said there was no other place where she could go.
And she'd feel that she had to deliver the money, perhaps--
because I must have given her a couple of thousand dollars.
It was quite a roll, mostly in fifties and hundreds, and I'm
short that much. I'm just gambling that the size of made her
feel she must go."
"That'd be Sis all over, Mr. Birnie." Eddie glanced around
him uneasily. The sun was shining level in his eyes, and
sunlight to Eddie had long meant danger. "I guess we better
hurry, then. I'll get the horses down outa sight, and come
back here afoot and wait."
"Do that, kid," said Bud, slipping wearily off Sunfish. He
gave the reins into Eddie's hand, motioned Jerry with his
head to follow, and hurried down the winding path to the
corrals. The cool brilliance of the morning, the cheerful
warbling of little, wild canaries in the bushes as he passed,
for once failed to thrill him with joy of life. He was
wondering whether to go straight to the house and search it
if necessary to make sure that she had not been there, or
whether Indian cunning would serve him best. His whole being
ached for direct action; his heart trembled with fear lest he
should jeopardize Marian's safety by his impetuous haste to
Pop, coming from the stable just as Bud was crossing the
corral, settled the question for him. Pop peered at him
sharply, put a hand to the small of his back and came
stepping briskly toward him, his jaw working like a sheep
"Afoot, air ye?" he exclaimed curiously. "What-fer idea yuh
got in yore head now, young feller? Comin' back here afoot
when ye rid two fast horses? Needn't be afraid of ole Pop--
not unless yuh lie to 'im and try to git somethin' fur
nothin'. Made off with Lew's wife, too, didn't ye? Oh, there
ain't much gits past ole Pop, even if he ain't the man he
used to be. I seen yuh lookin' at her when yuh oughta been
eatin'. I seen yuh! An' her watchin' you when she thought
nobuddy'd ketch her at it! Sho! Shucks a'mighty! You been
playin' hell all around, now, ain't ye? Needn't lie--I know
what my own eyes tells me!"
"You know a lot, then, that I wish I knew. I've been in
Crater all the time, Pop. Did you know Lew was mixed up in a
bank robbery yesterday, and the cashier of the bank shot
him? The rest of the gang is dead or in jail. The sheriff did
some good work there for a few minutes."
Pop pinched in his lips and stared at Bud unwinkingly for a
minute. "Don't lie to me," he warned petulantly. "Went to
Crater, did ye? Cashed them checks, I expect."
Bud pulled his mouth into a rueful grin. "Yes, Pop, I cashed
the checks, all right--and here's what's left of the money.
I guess," he went on while he pulled out a small roll of
bills and licked his finger preparatory to counting them, "I
might better have stuck to running my horses. Poker's sure a
fright. The way it can eat into a man's pocket--"
"Went and lost all that money on poker, did ye?" Pop's voice
was shrill. "After me tellin' yuh how to git it--and showin'
yuh how yuh could beat Boise--" the old man's rage choked
him. He thrust his face close to Bud's and glared venomously.
"Yes, and just to show you I appreciate it, I'm going to give
you what's left after I've counted off enough to see me
through to Spokane. I feel sick, Pop. I want change of air.
And as for riding two fast horses to Crater--" he paused
while he counted slowly, Pop licking his lips avidly as he
watched,--"why I don't know what you mean. I only ride one
horse at a time, Pop, when I'm sober. And I was sober till I
He stopped counting when he reached fifty dollars and gave
the rest to Pop, who thumbed the bank notes in a frenzy of
greed until he saw that he had two hundred dollars in his
possession. The glee which he tried to hide, the crafty
suspicion that this was not all of it the returning
conviction that Bud was actually almost penniless, and the
cunning assumption of senility, was pictured on his face.
Pop's poor, miserly soul was for a minute shamelessly
revealed. Distraught though he was, Bud stared and shuddered
a little at the spectacle.
I always said 't you're a good, honest, well-meaning boy,"
Pop cackled, slyly putting the money out of sight while he
patted Bud on the shoulder. "Dave he thought mebby you took
and stole Boise--and if I was you, Bud, I'd git to Spokane
quick as I could and not let Dave ketch ye. Dave's out now
lookin' for ye. If he suspicioned you'd have the gall to come
right back to Little Lost, I expect mebby he'd string yuh up,
young feller. Dave's got a nasty temper--he has so!"
"There's something else, Pop, that I don't like very well to
be accused of. You say Mrs. Morris is gone. I don't know a
thing about that, or about the horse being gone. I've been in
Crater. I'd just got my money out of the bank when it was
held up, and Lew was shot."
Pop teetered and gummed his tobacco and grinned foxily. "Shucks!
I don't care nothin' about Lew's wife goin', ner I don't care
nothin' much about the horse. They ain't no funral uh mine, Bud.
Dave an' Lew, let 'em look after their own belongin's."
"They'll have to, far as I'm concerned," said Bud. "What would I
want of a horse I can beat any time I want to run mine? Dave must
think I'm scared to ride fast, since Sunday! And Pop, I've got
troubles enough without having a woman on my hands. Are you sure
"SURE?" Pop snorted. "Honey, she's had to do the cookin' for
me an' Jerry--and if I ain't sure--"
Bud did not wait to hear him out. There was Honey, whom he
would very much like to avoid meeting; so the sooner he made
certain of Marian's deliberate flight the better, since Honey
was not an early riser. He went to the house and entered by
way of the kitchen, feeling perfectly sure all the while that
Pop was watching him. The disorder there was sufficiently
convincing that Marian was gone, so he tip-toed across the
room to a door through which he had never seen any one pass
save Lew and Marian.
It was her bedroom, meagrely furnished, but in perfect order.
On the goods-box dresser with a wavy-glassed mirror above it,
her hair brush, comb and a few cheap toilet necessities lay,
with the comb across a nail file as if she had put it down
hurriedly before going out to serve supper to the men.
Marian, then, had not stolen home to pack things for the
journey, as Jerry had declared a woman would do. Bud sent a
lingering glance around the room and closed the door. Hope
was still with him, but it was darkened now with doubts.
In the kitchen again he hesitated, wanting his guitar and
mandolin and yet aware of the foolishness of burdening
himself with them now. Food was a different matter, however.
Dave owed him for more than three weeks of hard work in the
hayfield, so Bud collected from the pantry as much as he
could carry, and left the house like a burglar.
Pop was fiddling with the mower that stood in front of the
machine shed, plainly waiting for whatever night transpire.
And since the bunk-house door was in plain view and not so
far away as Bud wished it, he went boldly over to the old
man, carrying his plunder on his shoulder.
"Dave owes me for work, Pop, so I took what grub I needed,"
he explained with elaborate candor. "I'll show you what I've
got, so you'll know I'm not taking anything that I've no
right to." He set down the sack, opened it and looked up into
what appeared to be the largest-muzzled six-shooter he had
ever seen in his life. Sheer astonishment held him there
gaping, half stooped over the sack.
"No ye don't, young feller!" Pop snarled vindictively. "Yuh
think I'd let a horse thief git off 'n this ranch whilst I'm
able to pull a trigger? You fork ner that money you got on
ye, first thing yuh do! it's mine by rights--I told yuh I'd
help ye to win money off 'n the valley crowd, and I done it.
An' what does you do? Never pay a mite of attention to me
after I'd give ye all the inside workin's of the game--never
offer to give me my share--no, by Christmas, you go steal a
horse of my son's and hide him out somewheres, and go lose
mighty near all I helped yuh win, playin' poker! Think I'm
goin' to stand for that? Think two hundred dollars is goin'
to even things up when I helped ye to win a fortune? Hand
over that fifty you got on yuh!
Very meekly, his face blank, Bud reached into his pocket and
got the money. Without a word he pulled two or three dollars
in silver from his trousers pockets and added that to the
lot. "Now what?" he wanted to know.
"Now You'll wait till Dave gits here to hang yuh fer horse-
stealing!" shrilled Pop. "Jerry! Oh, Jerry! Where be yuh? I
got 'im, by Christmas--I got the horse thief--caught him
carryin good grub right outa the house!"
"Look out, Jerry!" called Bud, glancing quickly toward the
Now, Pop had without doubt been a man difficult to trick in
his youth, but he was old, and he was excited, tickled over
his easy triumph. He turned to see what was wrong with Jerry.
"Look out, Pop, you old fool, You'll bust a bloodvessel if
you don't quiet down," Bud censured mockingly, wresting the
gun from the clawing, struggling old man in his arms. He was
surprised at the strength and agility of Pop, and though he
was forcing him backward step by step into the machine shed,
and knew that he was master of the situation, he had his
"Wildcats is nothing to Pop when he gets riled," Jerry
grinned, coming up on the run. I kinda expected something
like this. What yuh want done with him, Bud?"
"Gag him so he can't holler his head off, and then take him
along--when I've got my money back, Bud panted. "Pop, you're
about as appreciative as a buck Injun."
"Going to be hard to pack him so he'll ride," Jerry observed
quizzically when Pop, bound and gagged, lay glaring at them
behind the bunk-house. "He don't quite balance your two
grips, Bud. And we do need hat grub."
"You bring the grub--I'll take Pop--" Bud stopped in the act
of lifting the old man and listened. Honey's voice was
calling Pop, with embellishments such Bud would never have
believed a part of Honey's vocabulary. From her speech, she
was coming after him, and Pop's jaws worked frantically
behind Bud's handkerchief.
Jerry tilted his head toward the luggage he had made a second
trip for, picked up Pop, clamped his hand over the mouth that
was trying to betray them, and slipped away through the brush
glancing once over his shoulder to make sure that Bud was
They reached the safe screen of branches and stopped there
for a minute, listening to Honey's vituperations and her
threats of what she would do to Pop if he did not come up and
start a fire.
She stopped, and hoofbeats sounded from the main road. Dave
and his men were coming.
In his heart Bud thanked Little Lost for that hidden path
through the bushes. He heard Dave asking Honey what was the
matter with her, heard the unwomanly reply of the girl, heard
her curse Pop for his neglect of the kitchen stove at that
hour of the morning. Heard, too, her questioning of Dave. Had
they found Bud, or Marian?
"If you got 'em together, and didn't string 'em both up to
the nearest tree--"
Bud bit his lip and went on, his face aflame with rage at the
brutishness of a girl he had half respected. "Honey!" he
whispered contemptuously. "What a name for that little
At the rocks Eddie was waiting with Stopper, upon whom they
hurriedly packed the beds and Bud's luggage. They spoke in
whispers when they spoke at all, and to insure the horse's
remaining quiet Eddie had tied a cotton rope snugly around
"I'll take Pop," Bud whispered, but Jerry shook his head and
once more shouldered the old fellow as he would carry a bag
of grain. So they slipped back down the trail, took a turn
which Bud did not know, and presently Bud found that Jerry
was keeping straight on. Bud made an Indian sign on the
chance that Jerry would understand it, and with his free hand
Jerry replied. He was taking Pop somewhere. They were to wait
for him when they had reached the horses. So they separated
for a space.
"This is sure a great country for hideouts, Mr. Birnie,"
Eddie ventured when they had put half a mile between
themselves and Little Lost, and had come upon Smoky, Sunfish
and Eddie's horse feeding quietly in a tiny, spring-watered
basin half surrounded with rocks. "If you know the country
you can keep dodgin' sheriffs all your life--if you just have
grub enough to last."
"Looks to me as if there aren't many wasted opportunities
here," Bud answered with some irony. "Is there an honest man
in the whole country, Ed? I'd just like to know."
Eddie hesitated, his eyes anxiously trying to read Bud's
meaning and his mood. "Not right around the Sinks, I guess,"
he replied truthfully. "Up at Crater there are some, and over
to Jumpoff. But I guess this valley would be called pretty
tough, all right. It's so full of caves and queer places it
kinda attracts the ones that want to hide out." Then he
grinned. "It's lucky for you it's like that, Mr. Birnie, or
I don't see how you'd get away. Now I can show you how to get
clear away from here without getting caught. But I guess we
ought to have breakfast first. I'm pretty hungry. Ain't you?
I can build a fire against that crack in the ledge over
there, and the smoke will go away back underneath so it won't
show. There's a blow-hole somewhere that draws smoke like a
Jerry came after a little, sniffing bacon. He threw himself
down beside the fire and drew a long breath. "That old
skunk's heavier than what you might think," he observed
whimsically. "I packed him down into one of them sink holes
and untied his feet and left him to scramble out best way he
can. It'll take him longer'n it took me. Having the use of
your hands helps quite a lot. And the use of your mouth to
cuss a little. But he'll make it in an hour or two--I'm
afraid." He looked at Bud, a half-shamed tenderness in his
eyes." It sure was hard to leave him like I did. It was like
walking on your toes past a rattler curled up asleep
somewhere, afraid you might spoil his nap. Only Pop wasn't
asleep." He sat up and reached his hand for a cup of coffee
which Eddie was offering. "Anyway, I had the fun of telling
the old devil what I thought about him," he added, and blew
away the steam and took another satisfying nip.
"He'll put them on our trail, I suppose," said Bud, biting
into a ragged piece of bread with a half-burned slice of hot
bacon on it.
"When he gets to the ranch he will. His poison fangs was sure
loaded when I left. He said he wanted to cut your heart out
for robbing him, and so forth, ad swearum. We'd best not
leave any trail."
"We ain't going to," Eddie assured him eagerly. "I'm glad
being with the Catrockers is going to do some good, Mr.
Birnie. It'll help you git away, and that'll help find Sis. I
guess she hit down where you live, maybe. How far can your
horse travel to-day--if he has to?"
Bud looked across to where Sunfish, having rolled in a wet
spot near the spring and muddied himself to his satisfaction,
was greedily at work upon a patch of grass. "If he has to,
till he drops in his tracks. And that won't be for many a
mile, kid. He's thoroughbred; a thoroughbred never knows when
"Well, there ain't any speedy trail ahead of us today," Eddie
vouchsafed cheeringly. "There's half-a mile maybe where we
can gallop, and the rest is a case of picking your footing."
"Let's begin picking it, then," said Bud, and got up,
reaching for his bridle.
By devious ways it was that Eddie led them out of that
sinister country surrounding the Sinks. In the beginning Bud
and Jerry exchanged glances, and looked at their guns,
believing that it would be through Catrock Canyon they would
have to ride. Eddie, riding soberly in the lead, had yet a
certain youthful sense of his importance. "They'll never
think of following yuh this way, unless old Pop Truman gits
back in time to tell 'em I'm travelling with yuh," he
observed once when they had penetrated beyond the
neighborhood of caves and blow-holes and were riding safely
down a canyon that offered few chances of their being
observed save from the front, which did not concern them.
"I guess you don't know old Pop is about the ringeader of the
Catrockers. Er he was, till he began to git kinda childish
about hoarding money, and then Dave stepped in. And Mr.
Birnie, I guess you'd have been dead when you first came
there, if it hadn't been that Dave and Pop wanted to give you
a chance to get a lot of money off of Jeff's bunch. Lew was
telling how you kept cleaning up, and he said right along
that they was taking too much risk having you around. Lew
said he bet you was a detective. Are you, Mr. Birnie?"
Bud was riding with his shoulders sagged forward, his
thoughts with Marian--wherever she was. He had been convinced
that she was not at Little Lost, that she had started for
Laramie. But now that he was away from that evil spot his
doubts returned. What if she were still in the neighborhood--
what if they found her? Memory of Honey's vindictiveness made
him shiver, Honey was the kind of woman who would kill.
"I am, from now on, kid," he said despondently. "We're going
to ride till we find your sister. And if those hell-hounds
"They didn't, from the way Honey talked," Jerry comforted.
"We'll find her at Laramie, don't you ever think we won't!"
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE:TRAILS END
At the last camp, just north of the Platte, Bud's two black
sheep balked. Bud himself, worn by sleepless nights and long
hours in the saddle, turned furiously when Jerry announced
that he guessed he and Ed wouldn't go any farther.
"Well, damn you both for ungrateful hounds!" grated Bud, hurt
to the quick. "I hope you don't think I brought you this far
to help hold me in the saddle; I made it north alone, without
any mishap. I think I could have come back all right. But if
you want to quit here, all right. You can high-tail it back
to your outlaws--"
"Well, if you go 'n put it that way!" Jerry expostulated,
lifting both hands high in the air in a vain attempt to pull
the situation toward the humorous. "You're a depity sheriff,
and you got the drop." He grinned, saw that Bud's eyes were
still hard and his mouth unyielding, and lowered his hands,
looking crestfallen as a kicked pup that had tried to be
"You can see for yourself we ain't fit to go 'n meet your
mother and your father like we was--like we'd went straight,"
Eddie put in explanatorily. "You've been raised good, and--
say, it makes a man want to BE good to see how a feller don't
have to be no preacher to live right. But it don't seem
square to let you take us right home with you, just because
you're so darned kind you'd do it and never think a thing
about it. We ain't ungrateful--I know I ain't. But--but--"
"The kid's said it, Bud," Jerry came to the rescue. "We come
along because it was a ticklish trip you had ahead. And I've
knowed as good riders as you are, that could stand a little
holding in the saddle when some freak had tried to shoot 'em
out of it. But you're close to home now and you don't need us
no more, and so we ain't going to horn in on the prodigal
calf's milkbucket. Marian, She's likely there--"
"If Sis ain't with your folks we'll hunt her up," Eddie
interrupted eagerly. "Sis is your kind--she--she's good
enough for yuh, Bud, and I hope she--ll--well if she's got
any sense she will--well, if it comes to the narrying point,
I--well, darn it, I'd like to see Sis git as good a man as
you are!" Eddie, having bluntered that far, went headlong as
if he were afraid to stop. "Sis is educated, and she's an
awful good singer and a fine girl, only I'm her brother. But
I'm going to live honest from now on, Bud, and I hope you
won't hold off on account of me. I ain't going to have sis
feel like crying when she thinks about me! You--you--said
something that hurt like a knife, Bud, when you told me that,
up in Crater. And she wasn't to blame for marryn' Lew--and
she done that outa goodness, the kind you showed to Jerry and
me. And we don't want to go spoilin' everything by letting
your folks see what you're bringin' home with yuh! And it
might hurt Sis with your folks, if they found out that I'm--"
Bud had been standing by his horse, looking from one to the
other, listening, watching their faces, measuring the full
depth of their manhood. "Say! you remind me of a story the
folks tell on me," he said, his eyes shining, while his voice
strove to make light of it all. "Once, when I was a kid in
pink-aprons, I got lost from the trail-herd my folks were
bringing up from Texas. It was comin' dark, and they had the
whole outfit out hunting me, and everybody scared to death.
When they were all about crazy, they claim I came walking up
to the camp-fire dragging a dead snake by the tail, and
carrying a horn toad in my shirt, and claiming they were mine
because I 'ketched 'em.' I'm not branding that yarn with any
moral--but figure it out for yourself, boys."
The two looked at each other and grinned. "I ain't dead yet,"
Eddie made sheepish comment. "Mebbe you kinda look on me as
being a horn toad, Bud."
"When you bear in mind that my folks raised that kid, You'll
realize that it takes a good deal to stampede mother." Bud
swung into the saddle to avoid subjecting his emotions to the
cramped, inadequate limitations of speech. "Let's go, boys.
She's a long trail to take the kinks out of before supper-
They stood still, making no move to follow. Bud reined Smoky
around so that he faced them, reached laboriously into that
mysterious pocket of a cowpuncher's trousers which is always
held closed by the belt of his chaps, and which invariably
holds in its depths the things he wants in a hurry. They
watched him curiously, resolutely refusing to interpret his
bit of autobiography, wondering perhaps why he did not go.
"Here she is." Bud had disinterred the deputy sheriff's
badge, and began to polish it by the primitive but effectual
method of spitting on it and then rubbing vigorously on his
sleeve. "You're outside of Crater County, but by thunder
you're both guilty of resisting an officer, and county lines
don't count!" He had pinned the badge at random on his coat
while he was speaking, and now, before the two realized what
he was about, he had his six-shooter out and aimed straight
Bud had never lived in fear of the law. Instantly was sorry
when he saw the involuntary stiffening of their muscles, the
quick wordless suspicion and defiance that sent their eyes in
shifty glances to right and left before their hands lifted a
little. Trust him, love him they might, there was that latent
fear of capture driven deep into their souls; so deep that
even he had not erased it.
Bud saw--and so he laughed.
"I've got to show my folks that I've made a gathering," he
said. "You can't quit, boys. And I'm going to take you to the
end of the trail, now you've started." He eyed them, saw that
they were still stubborn, and drew in his breath sharply,
manfully meeting the question in their minds.
"We've left more at the Sinks than the gnashing of teeth," he
said whimsically. "A couple of bad names, for instance.
You're two bully good friends of mine, and--damn it, Marian
will want to see both of you fellows, if she's there. If she
isn't--we'll maybe have a big circle to ride, finding her.
I'll need you, no matter what's ahead." He looked from one to
the other, gave a snort and added impatiently, "Aw, fork your
horses and don't stand there looking like a couple of damn
Whereupon Jerry shook his head dissentingly, grinned and gave
Eddie so emphatic an impulse toward his horse that the kid
"Guess We're up against it, all right--but I do wish yo 'd
lose that badge!" Jerry surrendered, and flipped the bridle
reins over the neck of his horse. "Horn toad is right, the
way you're scabbling around amongst them rocks," he called
light-heartedly to the kid. "Ever see a purtier sunrise? I
I don't know what they thought of the sunset. Gorgeous it
was, with many soft colors blended into unnamable tints and
translucencies, and the songs of birds in the thickets as
they passed. Smoky, Sunfish and Stopper walked briskly, ears
perked forward, heads up, eyes eager to catch the familiar
landmarks that meant home. Bud's head was up, also, his eyes
went here and there, resting with a careless affection on
those same landmarks which spelled home. He would have let
Smoky's reins have a bit more slack and would have led his
little convoy to the corrals at a gallop, had not hope begun
to tremble and shrink from meeting certainty face to face.
Had you asked him then, I think Bud would have owned himself
a coward. Until he had speech with home-folk he would merely
be hoping that Marian was there; but until he had speech with
them he need not hear that they knew nothing of her. Bud--
like, however, he tried to cover his trepidation with a joke.
"We'll sneak up on. 'em," he said to Ed and Jerry when the
roofs of house and stables came into view.
Here's where I grew up, boys. And in a minute or two more
you'll see the greatest little mother on earth--and the
finest dad," he added, swallowing the last of his Scotch
"And Sis, I hope," Eddie said wistfully. "I sure hope she's
Neither Jerry nor Bud answered him at all. Smoky threw up his
head suddenly and gave a shrill whinny, and a horse at the
corrals answered sonorously.
"Say! That sounds to me like Boise!" Eddie exclaimed, standing
up in his stirrups to look.
Bud turned pale, then flushed hotly. "Don't holler!" he
muttered, and held Smoky back a little. For just one reason a
young man's heart pounds as Bud's heart pounded then. Jerry
looked at him, took a deep breath and bit his lip
thoughtfully. It may be that Jerry's heartbeats were not
quite normal just then, but no one would ever know.
They rode slowly to a point near the corner of the table, and
there Bud halted the two with his lifted hand. Bud was
trembling a little--but he was smiling, too. Eddie was frankly
grinning, Jerry's face was the face of a good poker-player--
it told nothing.
In a group with their backs to them stood three: Marian,
Bud's mother and his father. Bob Birnie held Boise by the
bridle, and the two women were stroking the brown nose of the
horse that moved uneasily, with little impatient head-
"He doesn't behave like a horse that has made the long trip
he has made," Bud's mother observed admiringly. "You must be
a wonderful little horsewoman, my dear, as well as a
wonderful little woman in every other way. Buddy should never
have sent you on such a trip--just to bring home money, like
a bank messenger! But I'm glad that he did! And I do wish you
would consent to stay--such an afternoon with music I
haven't had since Buddy left us. You could stay with me and
train for the concert work you intend doing. I'm only an old
ranch woman in a slat sunbonnet--but I taught my Buddy--and
have you heard him?"
"An old woman in a slat sunbonnet--oh, how can you? Why,
you're the most wonderful woman in the whole world." Marian's
voice was almost tearful in its protest. "Yes--I have
"'T is the strangest way to go about selling a horse that I
ever saw," Bob Birnie put in dryly, smoothing his beard while
he looked at them. "We'd be glad to have you stay, lass. But
you've asked me to place a price on the horse, and I should
like to ask ye a question or two. How fast did ye say he
Marian laid an arm around the shoulders of the old lady in a
slat sunbonnet and patted her arm while she answered.
"Well, he beat everything in the country, so they refused to
race against him, until Bud came with his horses," she
replied. "It took Sunfish to outrun him. He 's terribly fast,
Mr. Birnie. I--really, I think he could beat the world's
record--if Bud rode him!"
Just here you should picture Ed and Jerry with their hands
over their mouths, and Bud wanting to hide his face with his
Bob Birnie's beard behaved oddly for a minute, while he
leaned and stroked Boise's flat forelegs, that told of speed.
"Wee-ll," he hesitated, soft-heartedness battling with the
horse-buyer's keenness, "since Bud is na ere to ride him,
he'll make a good horse for the roundup. I'll give ye "--more
battling--"a hundred and fifty dollars for him, if ye care to
"Here, wait a minute before you sell to that old skinflint!"
Bud shouted exuberantly, dismounting with a rush. The rush, I
may say, carried him to the little old lady in the slat
sunbonnet, and to that other little lady who was staring at
him with wide, bright yes. Bud's arms went around his mother.
Perhaps by accident he gathered in Marian also--they were
standing very close, and his arms were very long--and he was
slow to discover his mistake.
"I'll give you two hundred for Boise, and I'll throw in one
brother, and one long-legged, good-for-nothing cowpuncher--"
"Meaning yourself, Buddy?" came teasingly from he slat
sunbonnet, whose occupant had not been told just everything.
"I'll be surprised if she'll have you, with that dirty face
and no shave for a week and more. But if she does, you're
luckier than you deserve, for riding up on us like this!
We've heard all about you, Buddy--though you were wise to
send this lassie to gild your faults and make a hero of
Now, you want to know how Marian managed to live through
that. I will say that she discovered how tenaciously a young
man's arms may cling when he thinks he is embracing merely
his mother; but she freed herself and ran to Eddie, fairly
pulled him off his horse, and talked very fast and
incoherently to him and Jerry, asking question after question
without waiting for a reply to any of them. All this, I
suppose, in the hope that they would not hear, or, hearing,
would not understand what that terrible, wonderful little
woman was saying so innocently.
But you cannot faze youth. Eddie had important news for Sis,
and he felt that now was the time to tell it before Marian
blushed any redder, so he pulled her face up to his, put his
lips so close to her ear that his breath tickled, and
whispered--without any preface whatever that she could marry
Bud any time now, because she was a widow.
"Here! Somebody--Bud--quick! Sis has fainted! Doggone it, I
only told her Lew's dead and she can marry you--shucks! I
thought she'd be glad!"
Down on the Staked Plains, on an evening much like the
evening when Bud came home with his "stake" and his hopes and
two black sheep who were becoming white as most of us, a
camp-fire began to crackle and wave smoke ribbons this way
and that before it burned steadily under the supper pots of a
certain hungry, happy group which you know.
"It's somewhere about here that I got lost from camp when I
was a kid," Bud observed, tilting back his hat and lifting a
knee to snap a dry stick over it. "Mother'd know, I bet. I
kinda wish we'd brought her and dad along with us. That's
about eighteen years ago they trailed a herd north--and here
we are, taking our trail--herd north on the same trail! I
kinda wish now I'd picked up a bunch of yearling heifers
along with our two-year-olds. We could have brought another
hundred head just as well as not. They sure drive nice.
Mother would have enjoyed this trip."